“Our eyes met in the piazza, we were only 15. For eternity our hearts were locked.” Pietro is a poet.
We found him at the tobaccheria last night watching TV. I pulled Ellie in with me to translate my apologies for dropping the painting date. He was happy to have a chat and agreed to meet me today in the privacy of my studio and sit. Then he began to talk. I wish I could have understood every word. From his pocket he pulled four pages of writings.
There written, not typed, were his stories about war, and his poems about love. He read them all. Ellie did her best to translate. I understood the most important parts – love, beauty, and death.
We walked him home and he insisted that we come in. On the side table in the dining room, next to the table where he writes, are the pictures of his past. He was tall and very handsome as a young man. His wife was beautiful. Sometimes the pictures must make him happy, and sometimes they must make him sad. The memories are full. Now he tells me, “my bones are very ill.” Still, he is a jovial man at 85.
I arrived to gather him promptly at 11 AM. He sat simply in a chair with the light coming in from the door. Theresa joined us for the 30-minute pose. He sat there, proud, still, happy, knowing that (as a friend said) I saw him from the inside. I enjoyed/relished every moment of it. The quick sketch to block him in, the light and shadow on his face, the way his clothes fell… – 15 minutes left, get in the table…, highlight the cane…, his hair… 5 minutes… eyebrows, hands, background color… I became excited and panicked, in an exhilerating kind of way. He referenced his Rolex and started to sing – I think it was an old war song – tick, tock. One minute – aaaaaaah… 10 seconds. Glasses… 2 seconds… time’s up.
Pietro stood up smiling. He walked by to see our efforts. He was genuinely charmed. He leaned his cane against the table and did a little dance for us. No kidding! He danced a sweet kind of jig that left no doubt. He was pleased. He was seen, he was recorded, and he was proud. I was proud. Pietro gave us a hug, a kiss on the cheek – and he was off.
He was excited to come to a small show we had tonight. A few of the artists are leaving tomorrow and we produced an exhibition to show our work from the last 2 weeks.
I met Pietro in the square at 6:30. Together we walked to the show. He restored my confidence, and perhaps in some way, I restored his.
For his friends, he imitated me – painting him. It was a very serious yet playful kind of portrayal. I now have many of them scheduled for 30-minute posses over the weekend. They are all different kinds of characters. I am a kid in a candy store.
I will keep working quickly, painting my way through the village. It is fun! What 30 minutes can tell you about a man…
I am feeling blessed, yet sometimes I miss my family so much that I physically ache. I know I will see them again. Pietro…Pietro has his poems. I have his portrait.